» Much Ado About Foreshadowing

Much of what delights fans of My Little Pony are the strides taken by the animators and writers to craft a well written story. Even during the lulls of the series, clever plot devices are employed to keep the show afloat. One device in particular that seems to be utilized the most by MLP is foreshadowing. Below I will outline moments of foreshadowing that stood out for either positive or negative reasons.

Foreshadowing Done Right

Despite the flack it gets, the “Friendship is Magic” two parter did have its fair share of strong points. Naturally, I could bring up Celestia’s playful exchange with Twilight to make some friends as an example of foreshadowing. That however is not what I would consider a strong use of it. The most stellar example that comes to mind occurs as Twilight is pondering the return of Nightmare Moon. For a split of a second, one can see the image of Nightmare Moon ominously reflected on the hourglass. Regardless of the fact that it can easily go unnoticed, this instance of foreshadowing perfectly hints at the evil mare’s presence and sinister plans. The hourglass itself also indicates how it is only a matter of time before the prophecy of her return will come to pass.

fore_pic1 I see you Nightmare Moon!

Though much of the foreshadowing of the series takes place during the adventure episodes; the slice of life episodes come with a good dose of it as well. An episode that I feel does not get enough attention in this respect is “May the Best Pet Win”. Throughout the episode, we constantly see Dash’s soon-to-be pet Tank remain faithfully by her side. It is due to the reinforcement of Tank’s loyalty that we are not blindsided by RD’s change of heart at the end of the trials. RD even points out a moment of foreshadowing in the following dialogue:

Rainbow Dash: Easy fella. Nothing to be afraid of. The falcon sure does looks cool. He’s absolutely everything I wanted in a pet.
Fluttershy: Yay?
Rainbow Dash: But I said whoever crosses the finish line with me gets to be my pet.
Pinkie Pie: You did! You did say that! She did say that, that was the rule!
Rainbow Dash: And the only racer who crossed the finish line with me was the one who stopped to save me when I needed help. The tortoise!

My third and favorite instance of foreshadowing occurred at the very beginning of “A Caterlot Wedding Part 1″. Musically inclined bronies tuning into the episode picked up on an intriguing progression of chords put together by Daniel Ingram. In the song “Big Brother Best Friend Forever,” instead of continuing the cheery melody, the song echoes Twilight’s bittersweet feelings and ends on a depressing note. When the chord progression of a song takes such an unexpected turn this is referred to as a “deceptive cadence”. Though this was an incredibly sneaky use of foreshadowing, it was an ingenious introduction to Chrysalis’ impersonation plot. For a more technically accurate and elaborate explanation of how Ingram achieved this, I urge you to read the first post of this Reddit thread.

Foreshadowing Done Wrong

It pains me to say that an example of poor foreshadowing is also present in the “Friendship is Magic” two parter. Perhaps the reason why people detest the episode so much is the fact that certain details are so blatantly obvious. The episode truly shoots itself in the proverbial foot when Twilight is confronted in the library by the future members of the Mane 6. As she reads out the five known Elements of Harmony a bell jingles in response and the camera reveals the pony that is linked to each element. The remainder of the episode follows this same pattern and beats us over the head with the core values of each pony. This is one moment where subtlety would have been truly beneficial to plot development and character growth. Future episodes in the series fortunately provided better opportunities for each of the Mane 6 to embody their elements more believably.

Insert the jingling of a bell here. Insert the jingling of a bell here.

Another episode which makes similar missteps is the “Mysterious Mare Do Well”. Not only are the Mane 6 oddly passive aggressive in this one; the whole mystery behind the identity of the pony showing Rainbow Dash up is hardly a secret. If there was any doubt in the audience’s mind regarding the Mane 6 pranking RD, it is quickly resolved in the conversation at Sugarcube Corner. After complaining among themselves regarding RD’s lack of humility, the Mane 6 happen to share this cringeworthy conversation later in the episode:

Applejack: Gotta hand it to the girl, that Mare Do Well sure can pull off some pretty heroic feats.
Twilight Sparkle: I must say, I was impressed by that spell she used to fix the dam. Seems like something like that would take quite a bit of study.
Fluttershy: She really cares about everypony’s safety.
Rarity: Have you seen her costume? It is to die for! If you ask me she’s a hero of fashion.
Applejack: And she’s modest and humble. She lets her actions speak for themselves. Heh, gotta admire that.

This exchange completely ruins the lesson this episode was trying to teach. It also leaves no room for surprise when the Mane 6 reveal to RD that they were pranking her the entire time.

The final example of foreshadowing done wrong takes place in the season 3 premiere “The Crystal Empire”. Admittedly, Twilight becoming an alicorn had been both officially and unofficially spoiled during the entirety of season 3. Regardless, the merits of Twilight being perfect for princesshood felt painted on thickly in the premiere. For instance, Twilight sings in “The Failure Song”:

I could ace a quiz on friendship’s bliss
But I wasn’t prepared for this
Will I fail, or will I pass?
I can’t be sure…
[…]
My mind is sharp, my skills intact
My heart is pure…

To top it off, in the success version of the song right as the Mane 6 sing at the top of their lungs, “turns out your were prepared for this,” Starswirl the Bearded’s journal is conjured up by Celestia. If the book innocuously appeared and did not accompany the song, I would have actually liked the inclusion of this detail. Sadly, the powerful effect it could have had is lost as it is tacked on to an otherwise unnecessary song.

Thankfully, the quality of My Little Pony’s writing still holds up quite well even when it hits the occasional weak spot. While two of the three good examples of foreshadowing I provided were very stealthy, when finally discovering them, they add a delicious layer of complexity to the show’s plot. If anything, these examples prove that MLP shines best when the writers and animators exercise subtlety while producing an episode. 

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